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To Rule or Not To Rule
Ash leaned back in her comfortable leather chair, fingers tapping idly on the armrests, and glanced around the room. Files were neatly arranged in a cabinet on one wall, and through the large window on the opposite wall, sunlight streamed in and was reflected in the clean, shiny hardwood floor. Someone had placed a mug of steaming coffee on the desk in front of her. Her desk. In her office. A place to quietly contemplate cases, surrounded by four solid walls that shut out any noise from the rest of the station. It was bliss.
Granted, it was only scheduled to last for a week until Sullivan would be back. But, until then, Ash was in charge. She ruled the station. People respected her. She thought of the list of rules she'd pinned to the board upon arriving that morning and smiled. Everything would be done her way. No one would bother her as the barrier of an actual door between her and them seemed oddly daunting. She wouldn't have to deal with minor iss
"Ash, I can't find the car keys!"
In the doorway stood Scribbs, who had unceremoniously flung the door open without knocking and looked positively panicked. She'd misplaced the keys before, and Sullivan had forced them to go to crime scenes and visit possible witnesses by means of bus and cab for a week before he'd relinquished the spare keys to them. Ash had been fuming, and if Sullivan was capable of such cruel punishment, Scribbs really didn't want to imagine what the reaction of someone as orderly as Ash would be.
With a look so stern that one might have suspected Scribbs had just informed her that she accidentally divulged classified information, Ash gestured her partner in. "Close the door," she demanded.
Scribbs obeyed and moved to sit in the chair opposite Ash. Fidgeting nervously with the hem of her shirt, she had the appearance of a school girl who'd been called into the headmaster's office. "Someone must have stolen"
"Firstly," Ash interrupted, sweeping imaginary crumbs from the desk's surface with her hand, "I'd prefer it if you referred to me as DI Ashurst, at least when others are within earshot."
"Since when?" Brow knitted in confusion, Scribbs wondered what ranks had to do with car keys.
Ash looked uncomfortable. "Well as I'm sure you're aware, I'm acting as a substitute for Sullivan this week while he recovers from his wisdom tooth surgery. That means I'm responsible for the workflow of Middleford CID and all its staff, and that in turn means I'm your superior."
The crease in Scribbs' forehead deepened. "You were already my superior."
"Now I'm your superior superior."
"Were you my inferior superior until last week?"
"No! I was your less superior superior. Now, I'm your more superior superior."
Scribbs' face was dangerously contorted now. "Er so being my partner-superior is different from being my 'the Boss is away and it's my party' superior?"
"Yes!" Ash was enthusiastic that Scribbs was ready to acknowledge the distinction. "We need to adhere to certain formalities. People are looking up to me; I can't afford to lose face."
"You lose face if I call you Ash?" Scribbs teased.
"Well, not exactly," Ash admitted, "but it'd be more appropriate for you to call me DI Ashurst for as long as I'm replacing Sullivan. Aside from that, we don't want to evoke the impression of a preferential treatment if you and I address each other by our nicknames, do we now?"
Scribbs put on the most serious expression she could muster. "No, we do not want that. You will be adressed by your proper rank and full surname. No 'Ash, honey' or 'Katie-muffin'."
Embarrassment crossing her features, Ash ignored Scribbs' promise to omit pet names she'd never even used in the first place. "Just for this week."
"I know. And secondly?"
"You started this exchange with 'firstly.' What else were you going to say?"
"Right." Reaching into her pocket, Ash retrieved the car keys from it and tossed them Scribbs' way. "I found them in the ladies', and I don't even want to know what on earth you were doing in there that made the keys slip from your pocket."
"I've been trying to tell you, someone must have stolen them and placed them there. I was framed."
"No excuses, Scribbs. Now that you and the keys are happily reunited, I suggest you pay the Bryson residence a visit. I suspect that Mrs Bryson knows more about the murder of Chester Shelton than she lets on."
Nodding and silently thanking whoever seemed to mean well with her today that she'd been spared one of Ash's tirades on losing things, Scribbs got to her feet, moved towards the door and then stopped, turning around and looking at Ash expectantly.
"What is it?"
"Aren't you coming?"
"Not today. I have to supervise the proceedings from here."
"What do you mean, supervise?"
"I make sure all the officers do their jobs to my satisfaction."
Scribbs rolled her eyes. "I know what supervise means. You don't have to be here at all times, you know. Sullivan's always out for investigations, too." At Ash's obvious scrambling for a satisfactory explanation, a smug smile spread on Scribbs' face. She jabbed her finger at Ash. "This is a dream come true for you, isn't it? You can sit here, boss people around, and get paid for it. You're a power junkie!"
"I am not!"
"You bloody well are." Grinning now, Scribbs opened the office door to leave. "I'll go and do the interview on my own, but just so you know, I'll be eating biscuits in the car, and there's nothing you can do about it."
A muscle in Ash's temple twitched. Glancing at the open door and hearing the subdued chatter from the rest of the station, she said, "Very well, DS Scribbins. You're dismissed."
"There's no need to call me"
Ash waved her hand impatiently. "Go!"
Still grinning cheekily, Scribbs scurried out of the room, clutching the car keys tightly in her hand. It looked like Ash was taking this temporary promotion quite seriously, and apparently it'd be Scribbs' job to keep her in check. Ash was a good police officer, but she tended to suffer from tunnel vision when it came to her career and proving she was capable of doing every job she was assigned. A typical overachiever, Scribbs thought as she easily manoeuvred the car through the morning traffic and smiled fondly. As much fun as purposely bending Ash's rules was, her overly pronounced properness could also be quite endearing in an exaggerated, often rather amusing way.
After receiving no less than four phone calls from Ash during the interview with Mrs Bryson, however, Scribbs considered changing her mind. The first time, she patiently confirmed that she wouldn't forget to ask the interviewee about the exact nature of her relationship with the deceased. When Ash rang her for the second time, Scribbs informed her that she'd immediately report to her office once she returned to the station and relate the content of the interview with as much detail as Ash wished if she would only stop interrupting the conversation. The third call bewildered Scribbs greatly as Ash wanted to know whether or not she'd noticed any garden gnomes in the front garden.
Finally, when her mobile chimed for the fourth time within an hour, Scribbs snapped. "Listen, DI Ashurst, I'm perfectly capable of conducting this interview by myself. I've done it before, I know how to do it, and you know that I know. So stop calling me and wait until I'm back, will you?"
Mrs Bryson, who had eagerly listened to Scribbs' side of the conversation while sipping her tea, didn't hear Ash's reply, but from the slightly disbelieving groan of the blonde police officer sitting across from her, she gathered that the woman on the other end of the line didn't apologise for her numerous phone calls.
"Your boss seems to be a bit of a control freak," Mrs Bryson pointed out as Scribbs emphatically pressed the button to end the call.
"More like a despot at the moment," Scribbs muttered.
"Another cup of tea, dear?"
Leaning back against the colourful afghan that was draped over the sofa she was sitting on, Scribbs gladly accepted, just so she wouldn't have to go back to the station yet.
When she eventually strode into the building an hour later, her irritation had vanished, and she chuckled quietly at Ash being Ash. Upon entering the room that was normally as busy as a beehive, she noticed strained whispers, nervous glances, and tense postures.
Catching the passing secretary by her sleeve and pulling her near, Scribbs' eyes never left the scene before her as she warily asked, "What's going on here?"
Heads snapping up and panicked looks shot her way told her that, evidently, she'd spoken too loudly. Fifteen pairs of eyes simultaneously abandoned Scribbs and focused on the door of Sullivan's office, and fifteen sets of shoulders relaxed when it remained shut, only to be followed by the sound of fifteen people inhaling sharply when the door slowly opened a few seconds later and Ash stepped out, a displeased expression on her face.
"O'Flannigan!" she hollered.
Everyone in the room seemed to shrink back, and Scribbs could have sworn O'Flannigan was pushed forward from their ranks like a sacrifice to soothe a goddess's temper; or, perhaps, he just stumbled because he was scared.
Scribbs was stunned. Just how much had Ash abused her sudden power in those few hours since Scribbs had left her office that morning? Thinking back to the whole superior discussion, she had to admit that the signs had been there, and Ash did seem like the type of person who was susceptible to drive people up the wall or make them fearful, in this case with imposing her pedantry on them and being indignant if they didn't follow her rules.
Having worked with her for years, Scribbs had learnt to deal with Ash's minor fits, invariably succeeding the breaking of a rule, and just as invariably countered them with a healthy dose of teasing and nonchalance. And slowly, sneakily, that side of Ash had made its way into Scribbs' heart and refused to leave. After getting used to it and thinking that she'd probably miss it if it ever was to disappear, Scribbs even began to find Ash's rule spleen quite appealing. But the fact that she liked a trait in Ash which she would have despised in anyone else made her safely deposit this thought in a drawer of her mind that was labelled 'Don't Analyse This.'
Her train of thought was interrupted when O'Flannigan reemerged from the office, his face pale, and immediately slumped down on the nearest unoccupied chair. The young man looked a little distraught, but also seemed quite relieved to have survived the lion's den.
"She's been doing that all day." The secretary's eyes were full of sympathy as she watched O'Flannigan across the room.
"I'll go and talk to her." Scribbs started for the office but bounced back when the secretary grabbed her wrist and held on tight.
"You can't go in there," she said in a hushed voice.
The woman pointed at the board where Ash's list of rules had been extended sheet by neatly pinned up sheet throughout the day. "Read the last one."
Stepping closer to the board, Scribbs read, "'Do not speak to the supervising officer unless she speaks to you first.' Okay, this is ridiculous. I'll put an end to this."
She ripped the list of rules from the cork it was attached to and, straightening her shoulders defiantly, stomped across the room. Her colleagues watched her like she was a martyr, and she wondered if police officers could be canonised after their demise.
Yanking the door open and, after stepping inside, slamming it shut forcefully, Scribbs was mildly surprised to find Ash sitting at her desk completely unperturbed, leafing through a report lying in front of her. Not even flinching at the bang of the door, she finally looked up after finishing a sentence. "Ah, there you are. Ready to go through the interview with me?"
"What the hell is this?" The sheets of paper with rules in bullet point format sailed through the air and landed on Ash's report.
Ash squinted at the list which she recognised as her own. "Well, these aren't your interview notes, that's for sure."
"'No more than three loo breaks per day'?" Scribbs quoted exasperatedly as she began pacing around the room. "Seriously, Ash, this is weird, even for you."
"I certainly didn't write 'loo'," Ash informed her stiffly. "And what's wrong with a few rules? I'm just maintaining the station's order while Sullivan's away."
Reaching the file cabinet, Scribbs turned on her heel and retraced her steps in the opposite direction. "Bollocks! You're establishing a bloody dictatorship so no one can question your authority. And calling people into your office to slag them off for minor mistakes? I know you're anal, but that's just not you."
"I'm not doing anything of the sort," Ash supplied indignantly. "I'm merely pointing out inefficiencies that detract from an optimal performance. I strive to encourage my subordinates in their endeavours, but they still have so much to learn."
Still marching around the room, Scribbs made a beeline around the desk and only stopped walking to keep the side of the chair from making her tumble down into Ash's lap. Looking down on her insistently, she said softly, "People are afraid of you, Ash. Is that really what you want?"
Ash's eyes widened like they normally only did when she was facing a horde of children. Standing up briskly and sending her chair bumping back against the wall, it was her turn to pace. "Oh no! You're absolutely right." At this, Scribbs looked pleased. "I'm a tyrant. I make people work the way I want them to by scaring them. What was I thinking? It's a good thing I'm not a DCI. I'd probably establish detention centres for disobedient officers!"
"Ash. Ash! Relax." Scribbs walked back to the other side of the desk and stepped in Ash's way, effectively forcing her to come to a halt and taking her hand. "You'd make a wonderful DCI. You're a very good, hard-working police officer who always keeps her cool, and you're respected by everyone. But, sometimes, you go a little overboard with your need for military-style planning!"
"I suppose so," Ash sighed as she peered down on their joined hands. "I was just hellbent on proving that I could do this and on trying to impress you."
"Yes, I know how important your career is to you and that you want to show Sullivan wait, impress me?"
Nodding, Ash seemed almost as surprised by her admission as Scribbs. She, too, had a drawer in her mind that she mostly kept shut because it contained an odd attraction to a certain slightly uncouth and sometimes annoyingly perky blonde. Apparently, her subconscious had decided that Sullivan's absence was the perfect opportunity to woo her.
Scribbs laughed out loud.
"What's so funny?"
"You trying trying to impress someone like me with something like this," Scribbs gestured around the office, "because it's the only way you know how. If I didn't find the thought of it really sweet, it'd be completely ridiculous."
"Yes, I know." Ash grimaced.
Scribbs smirked. "You thought making me call you DI Ashurst would be a good strategy, yes?"
"Don't remind me." A faint shade of pink began to stain Ash's cheeks.
Squeezing Ash's fingers lightly, Scribbs leaned in and smiled. "Well, you're lucky. It has occurred to me that I seem to have a thing for authority figures."
"Uh-huh. And since such an utterly exaggerated effort on your part should be rewarded, I'm determined to take you out to dinner tonight."
"Well," Ash mused, "I suppose that is one endeavour I should really encourage, shouldn't I?"
"Oh, definitely." Scribbs grinned and let go of Ash's hand. "I should go back to my case for now."
"Yes, yes, of course. People will wonder whether you're still alive."
Already on her way to the door, Scribbs' chuckle floated through the room. "Don't worry, I won't tell them it was all an elaborate set-up."
Scribbs' hand rested on the doorknob. "Yes?"
"When I'm not in charge of the station anymore next week and not as much of an 'authority figure' will you still be interested?"
"Let's see. You'll still be bossy, and you'll still be my superior. Yep, I'll still be interested. And I'm sure I could always come up with a number of other things I like about you if prompted."
"Well, that's good to know." Genuine relief was discernible in Ash's features. "Do you really think I'd make a good DCI?"
Scribbs looked pensive. "Yes, but I don't want you to become one."
"You wouldn't be my partner anymore."
Ash's face took on a pixieish air. "And dating your superior is much less of a dilemma than dating your superior superior."
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